Travel books for your gift list & reading pleasure
“Good writing travels the world even without a plane ticket.” Susy Guese
You may be an armchair traveler or stuck between round-the-world trips, when a book about travel finds and inspires you. That’s what this list is about. It’s a small, chaotically curated selection of publications that have crossed my path over the past 12 months.
Don’t look for guidebooks here. There are many other great resources detailing every place on the planet that you’d care to visit online and in print. (See a few linked below*)
I read at home, on the road, on airplanes, train and road trips. Electronic readers seem like a good idea that I haven’t graduated to yet. There’s something about ink and paper that relaxes me – might be having to spend most of my day in front of a monitor!
A good bit of story about a simple or exotic place can pull me in to a world and far from my own. I’m there with the author or wish I were. Great travel writing prompts me to explore new places, savor phrases and foreign words, create pictures and itineraries in my mind that I hope one day will materialize.
A Bakers Dozen of Travel Books
So much is published every year but I’ve honed down this list to 16 with a few notes on why I’ve included each one. It’s an eclectic bunch. Some of these books have come to me as gifts, one I first saw as a galley, some called to me in used book stores or at culinary events.
See if any match your own list and suggest omitted titles. I look forward to expanding the library.
This has been my go-to inspiration for great writing for years. It’s a moveable feast – easy to read through a story, put the book down and savor, before diving into the next course. Famed travel writer, Paul Theroux is editing the 2014 volume about ‘places we’d never set foot in but are glad someone else did.’
2. The Global Soul – Pico Ayer on Jet Lag, Shopping Malls and the search for home.
British born to parents from India, Pico has been inspiring travelers since 1986 with his books and articles. This isn’t his most recent work but may resonate with those of us who are befuddled about where home actually is when we find it wherever we are. I actually saw him speak recently and in another lifetime perhaps I’ll be so calmly eloquent. He’s a prolific writer, so explore his other volumes.
3. The Art of Travel – Alain de Botton
Somehow this heady collection of essays reeled me in even though Botton is more a philosopher than travel writer. The way he manages to pair writers and artists with aspects of travel illuminates all.
Chapters on Anticipation, the Country and the City, the Exotic, etc. are considered in a very subjective manner that’s like sipping a satisfying wine without tumbling into inebriation. His writing is a bit affected by his Swiss-British background and his old soul belies his youth. New endeavors have taken him to founding the School of Life in London, a social enterprise determined to make learning and therapy relevant in today’s uptight culture. His goal is to help clients learn “how to live wisely and well.” I’m good with that.
4. The Voluntourist – Ken Budd
Written just before voluntourism, volunteerism, or the like, became a travel meme, Ken launched into volunteer work after his father’s sudden death and his own grief over not being a father. You squeeze into his backpack for each of his trips in six countries, all challenging and affirming. It’s funny, touching and made me want to make my travel mean more.
5. The Unconventional Guides – Chris Guillebeau
I think of Chris as a philosopher-prince and started following his blog several years ago when he was on a mission to visit every country before he was 35. Each flight delay, visa trauma, and cold dawn drew me into the quest and isn’t that what great writing does best? His books are also full of examples from other passionate non-conformists around the globe. Any time I think I won’t make my travel dreams materialize, his common-sense suggestions reel me back into faith.
6. American Borders – Carla King, Solo Circumnavigation of the United States on a Russian Sidecar Motorcycle
Carla rides long, far and most often on her own. She’s been a solo motorcyclist in Europe, across China and the States. Her stories of breaking down, human kindness, loneliness and the exhilaration of the open road might not inspire you to run out and buy a Harley, but you’ll know someone who has and thrive on her adventure.
7. They Eat Horses, Don’t They? Piu Marie Eatwell – The truth about the French
If we believed everything written about the French they’d be a country where the women never get fat, don’t shave, drink wine with every meal and smoke non-stop. Piu has lived in France over ten years and quietly set about investigating the truth of 45 rumors about the country. What she details is hilarious and surprising through historical investigations, statistics, photos and expert questioning. An enlightening book for anyone intent on knowing a true reflection of France.
8. Forks – Alan Karl, A Cookbook about the quest for culture, cuisine and connection
This is one of those rare books that slides between genres and makes you giddy with exploration. Alan started off on a quest (theme much?) to visit five continents by motorcycle that lasted three years. He didn’t know he was going to create a cookbook travelogue at first. I first saw the galleys from the trunk of his car and applauded when his Kickstarter campaign overwhelmed his goals. Now this large, gorgeous book is out in time to catch the culinary tourism craze, in this case well deserved.
9. Freeways to Flip Flops – Sonia Marsh, A gutsy family’s year of living on a tropical island.
This is a reality tale for those of us with dreams of expat living. When Sonia and her husband decided to quit their materialistic, suburban life in California bringing along their three school-age sons, they were full of ambition and idealism. What happened over the months convinced them that paradise doesn’t have to be a world away.
10. Falling in Honey – Jennifer Barclay, How a tiny Greek island stole my heart
Jennifer goes into soul-baring detail about how she left Canada, created a digitally independent work-life, rode through heart-break and is managing to thrive in a completely new culture. It’s a sensual reflection of an independent spirit intent on finding her own way. Reassuring stuff for the rest of us!
11. Kafkas Last Love – Kathi Diamant
Not just a detective story uncovering the woman who inspired Kafka’s final days and sheltered his work, this is also a story about Kathi Diamant’s journeys to Poland and back home to the U.S. Discover what led her to go and what was revealed.
12. Tattoos, Hornets, Fire – The Millennium Sweden
If you loved reading Stieg Larsson’s Dragon Tattoo trilogy and yearned to understand the stories disjuncture with the sunny Sweden of cruise brochures, this book is a visual guide. The large format book is a non-linear tour of the country as seen by two celebrated photographers known as the Hilton Brothers.
As an author myself, I’d be at fault if I didn’t suggest the travelers on your gift lists might find some comfort and ease in the Drivetime Yoga and Flytime Yoga books. Indie Excellence Award winning, Drivetime Yoga is a two CD audio book.
The recent, Flight Bite cards, included with the Flytime Yoga Booklet in a Passport Wallet give three short techniques that can make flying much more comfortable 90 seconds at a time.
*Online guidebook resources include:
Check out online travel guides and blogs, Trip Advisor and Social Media travel sites like Tribber, GoGoBot, Jetsetter, etc.